“The King’s Man” – Run Conrad, Run!
To franchise or not to franchise? That is the question Hollywood grapples with on a daily basis. Just kidding. Hollywood would franchise your food pictures on social media if they had more than three likes. The only people having conversations about sequels, franchises, and remakes that go beyond how much it will cost are literally everyone who watches movies. As I wrote in my review of Kingsman: The Golden Circle, one of the common cliched movie conversations is to bash any movie not considered “original,”which is as nonsensical as putting pineapple on pizza.
In fact, I’ve talked about the topic several times; in 2013, 2014, and 2016 (I’m sure there are more). My 2016 discussion – the unnecessary sequel – is the one I want to focus on here because the Kingsman franchise makes for a very intriguing conversation in this context. On the one hand, Kingsman: The Secret Service was a highly entertaining movie that came out of nowhere. On the other hand, Kingsman: The Golden Circle was a shart in the hot tub, indicating that maybe The Secret Service should have remained a standalone film. But British spies as a concept could very much lend itself well to being a franchise, considering the longest running franchise in history is about British spies.
(SPOILER ALERT – You know the drill.)
Rather than continue on with the characters from movies one and two (at least for this film), The King’s Man is a prequel, taking us back in time to the 1910s to show us how the Kingsman organization came to be. Not only that, but the overall tone of the movie is different than that of the first two. Instead of being an over-the-top, sometimes flamboyant, romp of dry British humor and bloody action, The King’s Man is a mostly serious, straight-as-an-arrow film that sporadically remembers that it can go bonkers.
Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) is visiting a concentration camp in Africa run by British General Kitchener (Charles Dance). Orlando is representing the Red Cross and has come to discuss the treatment of the prisoners. In tow are his wife, young son Conrad, and his butler Shola (Djimon Hounsou). Tragedy quickly ensues and Orlando promises his wife that Conrad shall never see war. This becomes Orlando’s guiding principle and a constant reason for melodrama throughout the film.
Jump ahead a few years and World War One has started. Conrad (Harris Dickinson) is now nearing the age where he can enlist in the army and Orlando is dead set against it. Luckily, Orlando also happens to be the Duke of Oxford, a decorated war hero, personal friends with King George V (Tom Hollander), and still friends with General Kitchener, so it’s quite easy for Orlando to prevent Conrad from ever being put in harm’s way. That is, except for the fact that Conrad is dead set on joining the war and also happens to be an impulsive teenager. As this squabble is the over-arching plot of the film, it casts a pall over what are supposed to be the fun parts of the film.
While Orlando is buying Conrad a new suit as a way to distract Conrad from the war *deep breath*, a mysterious, Scottish-accented, bald, goat farmer living on top of a towering Swiss mesa has gathered a bunch of nefarious co-conspirators to set in motion a plan to topple the English, German, and Russian monarchies and take over the world. *deep breath* Ahhhhhh…there’s the insane thing we were expecting from this movie.
This goat farmer’s plan plays out as the key major events of WWI we learned about in school and the Oxfords end up enmeshed in nearly all of them. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, Rasputin’s (Rhys Ifans) influence over Tsar Nicholas II, the Bolshevik Revolution, Mata Hari, the Zimmerman Telegram, trench warfare, and Kaiser Wilhelm’s abdication of the German throne at the end of WWI. It’s essentially the idiot’s guide to WWI. Imagine if a violent Forrest Gump did World War I.
While the movie did have some good action scenes and interesting characters (as well as an astonishing and skin-crawling sequence with Rasputin), it almost goes out of its way to keep you from investing in them, including the Kingsman organization itself. In fact, the Kingsman don’t become official until the end of the film, after all of the conflicts are resolved. Until then, they consist wholly of Orlando, Shola, and Orlando’s head maid Polly Wilkins (Gemma Arterton); the three of them quietly trying to prevent Britain and friends from losing the war. Conrad is let in on their secret little band, but they never fully invite him in as a member due to Orlando’s vow to keep him away from war. This bothered me through the entire film because it was the extremely obvious solution to Orlando’s problem. Get King George to officially sanction them as a covert government organization, enlist Conrad as a member, then, make him the gadget guy or research guy as they try to thwart the evil Scot. That way, he’s fighting the war without fighting the war and Oxford can stop being the worst helicopter parent ever. Problem solved.
Inevitably, the question people want answered is how does it compare to the other Kingsman films? Compared to The Secret Service, it’s definitely not as good. It’s not as charming, exciting, fresh, or funny, but has enough good scenes to keep the viewer interested and entertained. Compared to The Golden Circle, it’s far better. It’s not a hot tub shart.
Rating: Ask for four dollars back and wait an hour until you get back in the tub.